Saturday, September 11, 2010

Do theropods described in Science and Nature get fully described later?

At the request of Mike Taylor, here's an update and expansion of a post I wrote for the DML last year.  Basically, we have a system that rewards publishing in Nature and Science (the so-called tabloids) despite the fact papers in those journals are universally thought to be too short due to space restrictions.  The usual response is that Nature/Science papers are just meant to be preliminary announcements that will be followed by more detailed coverage later.  But how often does this actually happen? 

Easy enough to find non-neornithine theropods thanks to The Theropod Database.  Note I only included taxa which were first named in Nature and (new for this blog post) Science, not those (like Sinornithomimus) which were first announced in Nature but named elsewhere, nor those (like Protarchaeopteryx) which were first named in obscure journals then redescribed in Nature.  I didn't count instances like Shuvuuia, where Chiappe (2002) did describe and illustrate more than was done in Nature, but only in the context of a chapter describing all alvarezsaurids.  So while the skull was effectively redescribed (as it was the only complete alvarezsaurid skull known), comments on the postcrania are only mixed with descriptions of other taxa or generalized alvarezsaurid description.  I also didn't include Majungatholus, which is a theropod described as a pachycephalosaur in Nature, which was later synonymized with MajungasaurusMajungasaurus was redescribed in 2007 based mostly on new remains initially reported in 1998 in Science.  So ... uh... I guess that taxon counts as a win for Science/Nature.

Sereno, Forster, Rogers and Monetta, 1993. Primitive dinosaur skeleton from Argentina and the early evolution of Dinosauria. Nature. 361, 64-66.
Redescription in progress for over a decade for publication as a JVP monograph.

Xu, Clark, Mo, Choiniere, Forster, Erickson, Hone, Sullivan, Eberth, Nesbitt, Zhao, Hernandez, Jia, Han and Guo, 2009. A Jurassic ceratosaur from China helps clarify avian digital homologies. Nature. 459, 940-944.
Not redescribed.

Charig and Milner, 1986. Baryonyx, a remarkable new theropod dinosaur. Nature. 324, 359-361.
Charig and Milner, 1997. Baryonyx walkeri, a fish-eating dinosaur from the Wealden of Surrey. Bulletin of the Natural History Museum of London (Geology). 53, 11-70.

Coria and Salgado, 1995. A new giant carnivorous dinosaur from the Cretaceous of Patagonia. Nature. 377, 224-226.
Not redescribed yet except for the braincase in 2002 (Coria and Currie).

Buffetaut, Suteethorn and Tong, 1996. The earliest known tyrannosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of Thailand. Nature. 381(6584), 689-691.
Not redescribed.

Xu, Norell, Kuang, Wang, Zhao and Jia, 2004. Basal tyrannosauroids from China and evidence for protofeathers in tyrannosauroids. Nature. 431, 680-684.
Not redescribed.

Xu, Clark, Forster, Norell, Erickson, Eberth, Jia and Zhao, 2006. A basal tyrannosauroid dinosaur from the Late Jurassic of China. Nature. 439, 715-718.
Not redescribed.

Gohlich and Chiappe, 2006. A new carnivorous dinosaur from the Late Jurassic Solnhofen archipelago. Nature. 440, 329-332.
Gohlich, Tischlinger and Chiappe, 2006. Juravenator starki (Reptilia, Theropoda) ein neuer Raubdinosaurier aus dem Oberjura der Sudlichen Frankenalb (Suddeutschland): Skelettanatomie und Weichteilbefunde. Archaeopteryx. 24, 1-26.

Dal Sasso and Signore, 1998. Exceptional soft tissue preservation in a theropod dinosaur from Italy. Nature. 392, 383-387.
Described in depth in Signore's thesis, which isn't published.  Dal Sasso and Maganuco are writing a monograph which Auditore said would be out in 2009 or early 2010, but it seems to be delayed.

Perez-Moreno, Sanz, Buscalioni, Moratalla, Ortega and Rasskin-Gutman, 1994. A unique multitoothed ornithomimosaur dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of Spain. Nature. 370, 363-367.
Redescribed in Perez-Moreno's unpublished thesis.

Chiappe, Norell and Clark, 1998. The skull of a relative of the stem-group bird Mononykus. Nature. 392, 275-278.
Not redescribed.

Perle, Norell, Chiappe and Clark, 1993. Flightless bird from the Cretaceous of Mongolia. Nature. 362, 623-626.
Perle, Chiappe, Barsbold, Clark and Norell, 1994. Skeletal morphology of Mononykus olecranus (Theropoda: Avialae) from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia. American Museum Novitates. 3105, 1-29.

Kirkland, Zanno, Sampson, Clark and DeBlieux, 2005. A primitive therizinosauroid dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous of Utah. Nature. 435, 84-87.
Zanno, 2010. Osteology of Falcarius utahensis: Characterizing the anatomy of basal therizinosaurs. Zoological Journal of the Linnaean Society. 158, 196-230.

Xu, Tang and Wang 1999. A therizinosauroid dinosaur with integumentary structures in China. Nature. 399, 350-354.
Not redescribed.

Xu, Cheng, Wang and Chang, 2002. An unusual oviraptorosaurian dinosaur from China. Nature. 419, 291-293.
Balanoff, Xu, Kobayashi, Matsufune and Norell, 2009. Cranial osteology of the theropod dinosaur Incisivosaurus gauthieri (Theropoda: Oviraptorosauria). American Museum Novitates. 3651, 35 pp.

Ji, Currie, Norell and Ji, 1998. Two feathered dinosaurs from northeastern China. Nature. 393, 753-761.
The type specimens haven't been redescribed, though Zhou et al. (2000) did describe others in more depth.

Xu, Tan, Wang, Zhao and Tan, 2007. A gigantic bird-like dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of China. Nature. 844-847.
Not redescribed.

Xu and Norell, 2004. A new troodontid dinosaur from China with avian-like sleeping posture. Nature. 431, 838-841.
Not redescribed.

Xu, Norell, Wang, Makovicky and Wu, 2002. A basal troodontid from the Early Cretaceous of China. Nature. 415, 780-784.
Not redescribed.

Elzanowski and Wellnhofer, 1992. A new link between theropods and birds from the Cretaceous of Mongolia. Nature. 359, 821-823.
Elzanowski and Wellnhofer, 1993. Skull of Archaeornithoides from the Upper Cretaceous of Mongolia. American Journal of Science. 293-A, 235-252.

Makovicky, Apesteguía and Agnolín, 2005. The earliest dromaeosaurid theropod from South America. Nature. 437, 1007-1011.
Not redescribed.

Novas and Puerta, 1997. New evidence concerning avian origins from the Late Cretaceous of Patagonia. Nature. 387: 390-392.
Not redescribed except the ilium by Novas (2004).

Xu, Wang and Wu, 1999. A dromaeosaurid dinosaur with filamentous integument from the Yixian Formation of China. Nature. 401, 262-266.
Not redescribed except for the skull (Xu and Wu, 2001) and the pes (Xu and Wang, 2000).

Xu, Zhou and Wang, 2000. The smallest known non-avian theropod dinosaur. Nature, 408, 705-708.
The holotype has not been redescribed, though two other specimens were monographed (Hwang et al., 2002).

Microraptor gui
Xu, Zhou, Wang, Kuang, Zhang and Du, 2003. Four-winged dinosaurs from China. Nature. 421, 335-340.
Not redescribed.

Novas and Pol, 2005. New evidence on deinonychosaurian dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous of Patagonia. Nature. 433, 858-861.
Not redescribed.

Zhang, Zhou, Xu, Wang and Sullivan, 2008. A bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran from China with elongate ribbon-like feathers. Nature. 455, 1105-1108.
Not redescribed.

Zhou and Zhang, 2002. A long-tailed, seed-eating bird from the Early Cretaceous of China. Nature. 418, 405-409.
Not redescribed.

Confuciusornis dui
Hou, Martin, Zhou, Feduccia and Zhang, 1999. A diapsid skull in a new species of the primitive bird Confuciusornis. Nature. 399, 679-682.
Not redescribed.

Walker, 1981. New subclass of birds from the Cretaceous of South America. Nature. 292, 51-53.
Not redescribed.

Forster, Chiappe, Sampson, Krause, 1996. The first Cretaceous bird from Madagascar. Nature. 382, 532-534.
Forster, Chiappe, Krause and Sampson, 2002. Vorona berivotrensis, a primitive bird from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. 268-280. in Chiappe and Witmer (eds.). Mesozoic Birds: Above the Heads of Dinosaurs. University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London.

Sanz, Chiappe, Perez-Moreno, Buscalioni, Moratalla, Ortega and Poyato-Ariza, 1996. An Early Cretaceous bird from Spain and its implications for the evolution of avian flight. Nature. 382, 442-445.
Sanz, Pérez-Moreno, Chiappe and Buscalioni, 2002. The Birds from the Lower Cretaceous of Las Hoyas (Privince of Cuenca, Spain). pp 209-229. in Chiappe and Witmer (eds.). Mesozoic Birds: Above the Heads of Dinosaurs. University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London.

Molnar, 1986. An enantiornithine bird from the Lower Cretaceous of Queensland, Australia. Nature 322 736-738.
Not redescribed.

Norell and Clarke, 2001. Fossil that fills a critical gap in avian evolution. Nature. 409, 181-184.
Clarke and Norell, 2002. The morphology and phylogenetic position of Apsaravis ukhaana from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia. American Museum Novitates. 3387, 1-46.

So that's Nature, but what about Science?

Hammer and Hickerson, 1994. A crested theropod dinosaur from Antarctica. Science. 264:828-830.
Smith, Makovicky, Hammer and Currie, 2007. Osteology of Cryolophosaurus ellioti (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Early Jurassic of Antarctica and implications for early theropod evolution. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 151, 377-421.

Sereno, Dutheil, Iarochene, Larsson, Lyon, Magwene, Sidor, Varricchio and Wilson, 1996. Predatory dinosaurs from the Sahara and Late Cretaceous faunal differentiation. Science. 272(5264), 986-991.
Not redescribed.

Bonaparte, 1979. Dinosaurs: A Jurassic assembalge from Patagonia. Science. 205, 1377-1379
Bonaparte, 1986. Les Dinosaures (Carnosaures, Allosauridés, Sauropodes, Cétiosauridés) du Jurassique moyen de Cerro Cóndor (Chubut, Argentine). [The Middle Jurassic dinosaurs (carnosaurs, allosaurids, sauropods, cetiosaurids) from Cerro Cóndor (Chubut, Argentina).] Annales de Paléontologie. Paris, France. 72, 247-289.

Sereno, Wilson, Larsson, Dutheil and Sues, 1994. Early Cretaceous dinosaurs from the Sahara. Science. 266, 267-271.
Not redescribed.

Sereno, Beck, Dutheil, Gado, Larsson, Lyon, Marcot, Rauhut, Sadleir, Sidor, Varricchio, Wilson and Wilson, 1998. A long-snouted predatory dinosaur from Africa and the evolution of the spinosaurids. Science. 282(5392), 1298-1302.
Not redescribed.

Sereno, Tan, Brusatte, Kriegstein, Zhao and Cloward, 2009. Tyrannosaurid skeletal design first evolved at small body size. Science. 326(5951), 418-422.
Not redescribed.

Choiniere, Xu, Clark, Forster, Guo and Han, 2010. A basal alvarezsauroid theropod from the Early Late Jurassic of Xinjiang, China. Science. 327, 571-574.
Not redescribed.

Turner, Pol, Clarke, Ericson and Norell, 2007. A basal dromaeosaurid and size evolution preceding avian flight. Science. 317, 1378-1381.
Not redescribed.

Forster, Sampson, Chiappe and Krause, 1998. The theropod ancestry of birds: New evidence from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. Science. 279, 1915-1919.
Not redescribed.

Zhang and Zhou, 2000. A primitive enantiornithine bird and the origin of feathers. Science. 290, 1955-1959.
Not redescribed.

Sereno and Rao, 1992. Early evolution of avian flight and perching: New evidence from Lower Cretaceous of China. Science. 255, 845-848.
Sereno, Rao and Li, 2002. Sinornis santensis (Aves: Enantiornithes) from the Early Cretaceous of Northeastern China. pp 184-208. in Chiappe and Witmer, (eds.). Mesozoic Birds – Above the Heads of Dinosaurs. University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London. 

So, of all 33 theropods described in Nature, 25 (76%) have yet to be fully described in a published work.  Of all 11 theropods described in Science, 8 (73%) have yet to be fully described.  So in total, 75% haven't been redescribed.

To be a bit more fair, of the 25 taxa described at least a decade ago, 17 (68%) have yet to be fully described. Hmm... doesn't really change the ratio.


  1. "I didn't count instances like Shuvuuia, where Chiappe (2002) did describe and illustrate more than was done in Nature, but only in the context of a chapter describing all alvarezsaurids. So while the skull was effectively redescribed (as it was the only complete alvarezsaurid skull known), comments on the postcrania are only mixed with descriptions of other taxa or generalized alvarezsaurid description."

    Add in the descriptions & figures by Sereno (2001*), including details of the orbital, dental, and pectoral regions, and it seems that most of the basic anatomical work on the available Shuvuuia cranial material has been attempted. Furthermore, Suzuki et al (1998#), supplemented the known cranial information with a paper on additional postcrania of Shuvuuia.

    I think Shuvuuia SHOULD be counted as case where the taxon was satisfactorily more fully described at a later date.

    *Sereno, P. C. 2001. Alvarezsaurids: birds or ornithomimosaurs?; pp. 69-98 in J. A. Gauthier, and L. F. Gall (eds.), New perspectives on the origin and early evolution of birds. Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.

    #Suzuki, S., L. M. Chiappe, G. J. Dyke, M. Watabe, R. Barsbold, and K. Tsogtbaatar. 2002. A new specimen of Shuvuuia deserti Chiappe et al., 1998, from the Mongolian Late Cretaceous with a discussion of the relationships of alvarezsaurids to other theropod dinosaurs. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Contributions in Science 494:1-18.

  2. "Giganotosaurus
    Coria and Salgado, 1995. A new giant carnivorous dinosaur from the Cretaceous of Patagonia. Nature. 377, 224-226.
    Not redescribed yet except for the braincase in 2002 (Coria and Currie)."

    I agree very much that the known specimens overall remain unsubscribed; the dentary and additional cranial info have seen the light of publication:

    Calvo, J. O., and R. A. Coria. 2000. New specimen of Giganotosaurus carolinii (Coria & Salgado, 1995) supports it as the largest theropod ever found. Gaia 15:117-122.

    Carabajal, A. P., and J. I. Canale. 2010. Cranial endocast of the carcharodontosaurid theropod Giganotosaurus carolinii Coria & Salgado, 1995. Neues Jahrbuch fur Geologie und Palaontologie, Abhandlungen x:Online Early View. 8 pp.

  3. For Shuvuuia, the line drawings and photographs by Sereno hardly count as a redescription. Any more than Calvo's (1999) photo of Giganotosaurus' pectoral girdle means it has been properly described. Suzuki et al.'s "Shuvuuia" specimen is another taxon (Longrich and Currie, 2009). The skull has been described in Dufeau's (2003) thesis, but this remains unpublished (and I don't have a copy). Since there's nowhere you can go to read a description of the axial skeleton, pectoral girdle, forelimb, pelvis or hindlimb, I can hardly call Shuvuuia satisfactorily more fully described.

    I was unaware of the Giganotosaurus endocast paper. I find it a sad state of affairs that Mapusaurus was properly described before Giganotosaurus.

  4. Some other pre-2010 theropods:

    Undescribed, but see 2010 SVP abstracts for forthcoming work.

    Holotype has been redescribed in JVP, and new materials (undescribed thus far) are also known.


    The scanty holotype of Enantiornis was redescribed and figured in:
    Chiappe, L. M. 1996. Early avian evolution in the southern hemisphere: the fossil record of birds in the Mesozoic of Gondwana. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 39:533-554.

    Similarly, the original material that Nanantius is based on is meagre, and was discussed in Chiappe above, and in Kurochkin & Molnar, 1997. There isn't (comparatively) much more information to be gained from having a redescriptive paper on the Nanantius holotype compared to most of the theropods on this list, which are based on more complete remains, and therefore require time and publication space to detail them. That Archaeornithoides was described a year after being named, compared with Baryonyx (11 years) tells you something about the differences between the tasks at hand (of detailing these very different specimens).

  5. Thanks for the ones I missed. I haven't yet added Tawa to my site, and I had somehow not listed Masiakasaurus' original description.

    Enantiornis' description in Chiappe (1996) is about as short as a tabloid description (less than half a page), and Chiappe claims a more detailed description would appear "elsewhere (Chiappe and Walker in preperation)." That refers to the 2002 Mesozoic Birds volume I assume, but while that remains the best source for illustrations of Enantiornis, there was no separate description of the taxon there.

    I agree Nanantius is more fragmentary than the others, but since so few enantiornithines were known at the time, a redescription could be quite informative. Much like someone needs to redescribe Alexornis...

    I certainly understand specimens can take a long time to properly describe, but it often seems workers throw out a preliminary paper, then go on to preliminarily describe the next thing instead of finish the job.

  6. The (very detailed, AFAIK) re-description of Scipionyx is only slightly delayed, but is coming (Maganuco, pers. com.)

  7. Yeah, they showed off some of the Scipionyx monograph material at SVP last year during their was truly stunning work.

  8. Hello, i have a question to you, do you think it could be possible that deltadromeus and bahariasaurus whjere just closley releated like cougar and jaguarundi, wolf and coyote rather than the same species ??

  9. Yup, it's possible. Probably impossible to tell given the material, let alone the descriptions.